Solving the Contact Paradox: Rational Belief in the Teeth of the Evidence

Solving the Contact Paradox:

Rational Belief in the Teeth of the Evidence

Thomas Vinci

Dalhousie University


Evidentialism is the doctrine that rational belief should be proportioned to one’s evidence. By “one’s evidence,” I mean evidence that we possess and know that we possess. I specifically exclude from “evidence” the following: information of which we are unaware that our brain might rely on in constructing experience or in the formation of beliefs. My initial interest is with the doctrine of Evidentialism as it applies to a quandary that arises in the Sci-Fi movie Contact, the “Contact Paradox” as I will call it. In this movie one of the main characters, Ellie, is a cosmologist working in a radio-telescope research facility searching for signals from intelligent life in the cosmos. The entity whose epistemological status is at issue in her quandary is her deceased father but there is an obvious parallel between the quandary of a rational believer in God and Ellie’s quandary, a parallel extensively explored in the movie itself. My first thesis is that in Ellie’s case Evidentialism is false: in certain cases, it is rational to believe in the existence of an entity in spite of the fact that the empirical evidence overall is contrary, and the Contact Paradox is one such case. Later in the paper I turn attention to the issue of Evidentialism regarding beliefs in the existence of God. My second thesis is that Evidentialism is false there as well.

About the Author

Tom Vinci, B.A, (Toronto, 1971), Ph.D (Pittsburgh, 1977) has been a Full Professor of Philosophy and Chair of the Department of Philosophy at Dalhousie University, with retirement beginning in 2013. He works in the History of Philosophy, specializing in the study of Descartes, Kant and Sellars, and in Epistemology, Metaphysics and the Philosophy of Science. He has two monographs,  “Cartesian Truth” (Oxford University Press, 1998) and “Space, Geometry and Kant’s Transcendental Deduction of the Categories” (Oxford University Press, 2015) and has written the entry on Wilfrid Sellars for the Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy. Most recent publications are “Leibniz’ Postulate, Planck’s Postulate and the Case for Divine Reason” (Iyyun, The Jerusalem Philosophical Quarterly, 2020) and “Planck’s ‘Short Step’ Argument for Divine Reason in Physics” (European Journal of Science and Theology, 2020). Organizer of the Atlantic Canada Seminar in Early Modern Philosophy, now in its 17th year, he lives with his wife, Carmen, in Atlantic Canada. They have three children, Christopher, Alexandra and Rebecca.

Published: 2020 – 09 -23

Issue: Vol 3 (2020): The Blue Pill Dilemma: Is Knowledge a Blessing or a Curse?

Section: Yearly Theme

Copyright (c) 2020 Thomas Vinci

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